The Telegraph
Saturday , August 2 , 2014
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Morcha tries to end Jungpana stand-off

Siliguri, Aug. 1: The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha leadership today launched efforts to reopen “at the earliest” the Jungpana tea estate where work has been suspended indefinitely because of labour trouble.

“From our party’s side, we will do whatever possible to see that the Jungpana tea estate reopens at the earliest,” Morcha general secretary Roshan Giri told The Telegraph today.

The Morcha-controlled Darjeeling Terai Dooars Plantation Labour Union is the sole labour outfit at the garden in Kurseong.

Giri added: “We don’t think that the situation in the garden had spun out of control to warrant a suspension of work. We have learnt that there were differences among the workers and the management over some petty issues. Nevertheless, the leaders of our trade union have been asked to sort out the matter.”

The central leadership of the union sounded conciliatory, saying the local unit had acted “unilaterally” and efforts would be made to hold talks.

The management of the tea estate, however, made it clear that it was unwilling to hold talks unless action is taken against some of the “indisciplined” workers.

Sandeep Mukherjee, the principal adviser to the Darjeeling Tea Association which represents owners of several gardens, told The Telegraph: “We want to make it clear that the management of Jungpana tea estate would not agree for talks unless punitive steps are taken against the errant trade union leaders of the garden by their central leaders. There should be appropriate steps to discourage workers and union leaders from creating such problems in future.”

According to Jungpana officials, the union had been intimidating the management to accept its charter of demands that included filling up vacancies in the garden with labourers of the union’s choice, giving the union the authority to assign work to the employees and decide on promotions.

The management had maintained that this was its prerogative and not that of the union.

Last evening, the Jungpana unit of the union filed a complaint in Kurseong police station against B.N. Mudgal, the general manager of Jungpana tea estate, alleging that work was suspended in the garden before serving the closure notice.

But Suraj Subba, the general secretary of the union, said that the Jungpana unit of the union had acted “unilaterally” in making demands from the tea estate management and filing a police complaint.

Subba said: “A section of our local leaders in the garden had taken some unilateral decisions, leading to differences with the management. Also, we had no idea about the complaints being filed with the police against the general manager.”

Subba added that the union had “informally” initiated talks with the Darjeeling Tea Association (DTA) to arrange a dialogue with the tea estate management so that the problems could be sorted out and the tea garden reopened.

“Tomorrow, we will also visit the tea estate to speak to the workers and our local union leaders to have a better understanding of the situation. Our party leadership has asked us to intervene in the matter to ensure that the garden reopens at the earliest,” Subba added.

But Mukherjee, the DTA adviser, pointed out that a meeting had been called at the DTA office on July 30 but representatives of the union failed to turn up.

“Instead, the officers of the tea estate started receiving threatening calls from anonymous callers,” Mukherjee said. “This kind of incidents has to stop.”

DTA sources said the assistant labour commissioner of Kurseong had called a tripartite meeting on August 5. “The management is yet to decide as whether it will send representatives to the tripartite meeting,” a source said.